Advent Daily Devotional


Lenten Devotional 3-16-23

Sermon on the Mount

March 16, 2023

Matthew 6: 2-4

2 ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

It might be only legend, but I have heard that some churches conduct fundraising like this: The preacher knows how much the church needs to meet it’s budget. The preacher puts a chalk board in front of the congregation on Sunday morning and writes the number on the board. Then, the preacher looks at the congregation and says, “Who wants to go first?” Each member stands and tells everyone what they can afford to give to meet the budget. Each member. Everyone. The preacher subtracts the amount from the budget as each member announces their pledge. Once everyone is done, if there is any amount not covered., the preacher starts again. This continues until the budget is covered. Such a practice seems at odds with Jesus lesson in today’s text. If everyone knows how much everyone gives, alms are not given in secret. Someone could boast about how much they give and seek special privileges and power in the church, right? Jesus calls such folks hypocrites. People who say one thing and do something different. In terms of alms giving, hypocrisy is saying one thing with your money (look how pious I am), but doing something entirely different in your life (I worship money).

One example I can think of is Andrew Carnegie. At one time Carnegie was the richest man in the world. He got that way by being a ruthless businessman who H. K. Frick expected to “meet in hell” because, in part, of the way they together handled the Homestead steel strike. But what Carnegie is perhaps best known for is his funding of community houses and libraries around the country. He made sure everyone knew about it. So, while it appeared as if Carnegie was a “man of the people”, he was in fact trying to buy is way into heaven, as some said. 

What would Jesus say about this? “I think something like this: Andrew, you are a hypocrite. You give away all that money to make sure everyone thinks you are a great humanitarian. But, in your actual life, you have been a ruthless businessman who worshipped only money. “See how pious I am because of my great generosity? Just pay no attention to how I came to have so much money.” But I know, Andrew. Had you worshipped God, Andrew, you would have been taking care of your workers and their families and other folks in need all along. Then your actions and your words would have been consistent. I don’t care how much you give and who knows about it as long as you do that.”

Lenten Devotional 3-15-23

Sermon on the Mount

March 15, 2023

Matthew 6: 1

‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Back in the late 60s and early 70s I was an up-close witness to what was called the Jesus Movement. It was a countercultural Christian revival joined by many young people proclaiming themselves to be “Jesus Freaks”. I was visiting my grandparents for the summer in Edinboro, PA. I did this every year and had several friends I would hang out with there. When I arrived for the summer in 1972, a few of them were wearing fairly large wooden crosses around their necks and carrying Bibles. This was new. This was unlike them. They spent their time asking folks like me if we were “born again”. They were asking folks to go to “prayer meetings” where they would talk about the “issues”. It was kind of cool, actually. Such outward manifestation of new faith was exciting. Anyway, summer ended and back home I went. When I returned the next summer, the crosses and Bibles were gone. No discussion of rebirth. No prayer meetings. Kind of sad, really. I think of those days when I read this passage. Outward piety that is not pursued in private does not work according to Jesus. It fades away. Our piety must be heart felt and pursued privately then demonstrated by what we do, not what we wear, nor the Bible sound bites that make us only seem pious.  Are we to refrain from wearing crosses or inviting people to church? No. What we are to do is act like disciples and let our actions speak louder than our words.

Lenten Devotional 3-14-23

Sermon on the Mount

March 14, 2023

Matthew 5: 43-48

43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

During our Lenten sermon series on Beautiful and Terrible Things, I preached that one of those terrible things is our desire for perfection even though perfection is impossible. And now here comes Jesus and says that we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect! Is that the standard? No. Remember that Matthew soon describes how Jesus taught his disciples to pray. One part of the prayer is our request that God forgive our sins – our imperfections. What Jesus is saying here is that we need to keep trying to be good disciples! It is the effort that glorifies God. And God forgives us when we inevitably fail. 

Having said all that, Jesus starts off by telling us to love our enemies. That’s a tough one. But we are talking “agape” love here, not good feelings. We are to treat everyone, even our enemies, the way we want to be treated, even when we aren’t treated the way we want by them. That’s what God does. That’s the way God treats us. That’s what we are called to do, too.

Here is an example. I am reading a book about Teddy Roosevelt. In 1903, he was in a bitter battle with fellow Republican, Senator Mark Hanna of Ohio, for the upcoming Republican presidential nomination. In the middle of their fight, Hanna came down with typhoid fever and was near death. Roosevelt left the White House and walked to Hanna’s residence to ask about Hanna and extend good wishes. Hanna was moved and sent a conciliatory letter to Roosevelt, who responded in kind. Hanna died a few days later. These two bitter enemies had made peace. Agape love prevailed. It was a perfect moment.